Keesler Air Force Base

Biloxi, Mississippi


History



Keesler AFB, Biloxi, MS

Keesler AFB is home to the 81st Training Wing, one of Air Education and Training Command's largest technical training wings.

Keesler opened in 1941, when the city of Biloxi deeded 1,563 acres of land to the government for an Army Air Corps technical training base for airplane and engine mechanics.

The base was named in honor or 2nd Lt. Samuel Reeves Keesler Jr., an arial observer from Greenwood, MS, who was killed in action in France during World War I. During World War II, 142,000 aviation mechanics and 336,000 new recruits were trained at Keesler. The majority of the B-24 "Liberator" bomber mechanics were Keesler graduates. Many other schools operated at Keesler during the war, including the B-24 copilot and emergency rescue schools.

Women began training here in 1943, as did foreign nationals. Students from more than 50 countries have received aviation, personnel and electronics training at Keesler.

After the war, Keesler continued to grow, acquiring courses for helicopter mechanics, supply officers and military police. Also added were schools for air chemical, pre-meteorology, cooks and meat-cutters.

The Air Force's radar school relocated from Boca Raton, Fla., in 1947. Two years later, Keesler lost its airplane and engine mechanics when it was moved to Sheppard AFB, TX. That same year, radio operations school moved to Keesler from Scott AFB, Ill. It was at this point Keesler's history became known as the "Electronics Center of the Air Force." During the 1950s, Keesler underwent a massive rebuilding effort, adding the "Triangle" student area, four academic buildings and a new hospital. The Air Force's urgent demand for radio and electronics technicians forced Keesler's schools to operate six days a week.

Communications and control courses moved from Scott AFB in 1958. Evolving from these courses were the ground and airborne communications electronics maintenance and operator training and air traffic control training courses. Meanwhile, the advent of the Semi Automatic Ground Environment air defense system brought digital computer training to Keesler.

In January 1967, flying training returned when foreign nationals began undergraduate pilot training in T-28 aircraft and, later, T-41s. This training continued through May 1973.

In 1968, the personnel and administration courses moved to Keesler from Amarillo AFB, Texas. That same year, astronautics and space systems courses were added, and Keesler graduated its one millionth student.

During the 1970s, Keesler remained the largest training center in the Air Force and became the nation's main supplier of electronics technicians. Two additional areas of training received special attention in the 1980s-- airborne warning and control systems and ground launched cruise missile. The air traffic control program also received its share of attention, especially during the 1981 professional air traffic controllers' strike. By presidential order, military controllers, trained at Keesler, stepped in and kept the nation's airways flowing.

In 1992, Keesler began training all of the DOD's weather forecasters and observers when it gained courses from the closing of Chanute AFB, Ill. Flying training returned once again in 1994 with the instruction of pilots in the C-12 and C21 aircraft.

Source: 81st Training Wing Public Affairs Office.
Photo: From Bob Green's collection.

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